At the end of it all; John Terry has been deemed ‘not guilty’ by Magistrate Howard Riddle. This should act as a cue for the dust to settle down. However, it may not be as simple as that. For this might just signal the beginnings of a sand storm brewing in the footballing world. The hope, however, is that it will eventually lead to an improved way of dealing with ‘on the pitch’ incidents and subsequently, with the ever looming spectre of racism.
In light of the revelations that have come out from the courtroom, some feel that both Anton Ferdinand and John Terry have brought the game into disrepute. The Chelsea faithful are of course jubilant and the usual choruses of ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ have been bandied about to no end ever since the verdict has been pronounced. Then there is the black community which feels let down, and large sections of the media have left no stone unturned in orchestrating this into a vindictive witch hunt.
Each of these views are backed by strong and opposing emotions, but there is something in common that links these differing threads of thought to one another. The common factor here, and as of now, happens to be that of a collective bias on each side’s part.
Self-righteous people expressing surprise at the kind of language used on pitch are watching a different game and need to emerge out of their cave once in a while. While it is certainly most unpleasant and vile in nature, nothing about the language is surprising at all. Everybody is aware that the referees in particular suffer dog’s abuse from the players on an everyday basis and abuses of a deeply personal nature are regularly aimed at opponents in order to unsettle them. John Terry himself mentioned that he was immune to the nature of abuse because it happened so often. Also football is only too familiar with unsavory chants emanating from the terraces ever so often.
It was, therefore, natural that both John Terry and Anton Ferdinand would repeat all of what was said on the pitch; in court. And the law demanded that they do so. The game was brought into disrepute by both parties as it was being played at Loftus Road Stadium on the 23rd of October 2011, and not any time after that.
Therefore, for some parties to act as if John Terry and Anton Ferdinand revealed some sort of a deep, dark, well-kept secret is a case of blatant opportunism. The Professional Footballers Association has now decided to push for a change in law with regards to on pitch abuse and while it is certainly a worthwhile cause, it does beg the question as to why the matter wasn’t addressed before. Sure, the racism angle to this incident meant that it was high time, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that ‘abuse’ was ignored all this while. This reactionary measure wasn’t mooted even post the Suarez-Evra incident. Would that be because in that case the accused was held guilty by the FA?
While Chelsea fans are celebrating what they see as a victory, there is still another half of this story to go. The FA has already notified those concerned that there will be a separate inquiry into this matter and they have indicated that they would do it without any more delay. So the possibility of John Terry getting banned is still very real. And as laughable as it sounds, the FA could possibly punish both players for bringing the game into disrepute and for use of abusive language.
They are, however, going to have a tough time proving that the Chelsea captain intended racial abuse after he has been cleared of those accusations by a court of law on account of inconclusive evidence. As it is, with the Suarez-Evra case, it was perceived in some quarters that the FA merely acted on the basis of one man’s words against another and thus they’re likely to tread more carefully this time. It is possible that the FA may choose not to pursue that path altogether, and instead will find other ways to implement a punishment.
John Terry’s already questionable off field image, however, has taken another severe beating and has possibly escaped a fatal blow only by a mere whisker. Also it does not bode well for Chelsea Football Club – if their captain is vulnerable to highly combustible situations such as this one and previous incidents such as the one with Wayne Bridge’s ex(among a few others) – on an almost annual basis.
Those in the black community are distraught and disappointed with the verdict. But one cannot agree with those who suggest that the judgement means ‘It is okay to call someone that’. The very reason the trial even happened because these words were used. John Terry did get away, but it is important to establish intent when it comes to proving matters in a court of law. And by discrediting this fact, these suggestions mock the judicial system in return.
The prosecution needed to prove three things under habeas corpus:
- The words spoken must be threatening, abusive or insulting as well as racially aggravated.
- Said words must be spoken in sight of person likely to be distressed.
- The defendant must be aware that said words were likely to be insulting.
It seems that the prosecution couldn’t conclusively prove Terry guilty on all of the three counts stated above and therefore, we have the ‘Not Guilty’ verdict.
If the very use of the these words was to be deemed racist then a journalist using those words on paper could be accused of being racist and even be convicted for it. The only chance he/she would have of proving innocence is by referring to context and by providing proof of intention.
Knee jerk conclusions such as these seem churlish at best and only serve to weaken the black community’s cause. It would be better for the community on the whole and for football, if stricter, more water-tight laws came into place because of this incident and ensured better monitoring, should anything untoward happen in future.
While some would say that football is the biggest loser and that the game is not so beautiful anymore, perhaps this should instead be seen as an opportunity to put things right. The media’s obsession with hounding John Terry and seeing him punished, only serves to highlight a deeply ingrained short term mentality. Even if hypothetically, John Terry was convicted of being racist, there is room for another incident to crop up in future and for somebody else to get away.
For the game to be free from the various controversies that arise from time to time, there is an urgent need to repeatedly address these problems right from the root and eliminate them. And in that sense, one must accept that the PFA’s suggestion, even if late, makes for a good start. Also this case highlights that the issue of Racism is certainly taken extremely seriously in football. The challenge for society as a whole is to treat it with just the right amount of importance, or there is a very real danger that it becomes the new McCarthyism.